All the ingredients were there. A full De Kuip (yes, 50% Dutchies, 50% Polish fans as Rotterdam has a big Polish contingent), nice football weather and Team A on the pitch. And no Lewandowski!
Van Gaal: “I have to say, the training matches were just fantastic!”
Before the game, the interviewer asked a prickly Van Gaal: “With the great match v Belgium in the back of your mind, are you interested to find out how low this Team A could go?”
Van Gaal: “What? How low? No, of course not! I don’t want to find that out. I want them to play that level of Belgium in every match. Why would I want to know how low we can go??”
Well, it seemed the interviewer had a crystal ball.
For some reason, Oranje started the game abysmal. It usually takes a while to see where players are at, but as Poland sacrificed a midfielder to cover, mark and follow Frenkie de Jong, the player where your creativity should start, Holland never got into their rhythm.
The usual problems. No depth. Very slow ball circulation. Indecisive. Wrong decisions.
With all the practice in the world and with players who get their salaries paid by Barcelona, Inter Milan, Man City, Spurs and Ajax, you would expect more, but somehow it felt the players all have 10 kg backpack on their backs.
And sure, the season was long and players were tired. Van Gaal subbed Timber as he felt the youngster was “walking on his last legs”. Bergwijn is not able to perform at level for more than 70 minutes.
And yes, Poland came to disrupt the Oranje flow and played a 4-4-1-1 to frustrate us and close off the spaces.
Still, one would expect Oranje to find solutions quicker.
Everything went through the centre, in the first half. While Blind – who played one of his worst games – and Dumfries were constantly open on the wings, but either players didn’t see it (not good) or didn’t dare to play the cross ball (also not good). I see Virgil do this time and time again at Liverpool.
There were times in the first half, when Timber got the ball and for some reason our forwards sprung into life, with runs by Bergwijn and Memphis simultaneously. Some good moves came off it but never resulted in a full on chance.
Poland executed the “lure them into one side and open up to the other” better than Holland. They got their first goal from that situation, something they almost were able to do some 5 minutes before hand as well. Blind should have been warned! The ball was played from the Polish left to the right, where Matty Cash had all the freedom to take on the ball. Blind decided to keep on covering the goal instead of pressing on the ball but made the error of opening his legs. Rule no: 1 for a defender. You block the shot so the goalie can cover the other angle. Opening your legs means the goalie sees the ball late and has to cover the whole goal width.
Now, Flekken didn’t cover himself in glory either. His positioning was off and you’d normally expect a keeper to do better.
Blind had a dreadful first half. Looked off the pace and his trusted left foot let him down numerous times. Balls that would normally be bread and butter for the passing expert went awry. You’d also expect more from him in the situation where the Polish goalie blocked a Berghuis shot and Blind needed to snap-shoot the ball on goal. Yes, the ball bobbed up but with Blind’s left foot, you do expect better.
When Frenkie is not in the game, someone else needs to step up. Blind wasn’t that player, Dumfries can’t be that player (I love the guy, he scores again, he fights and rumbles, he runs like hell but he’s not a gifted player…) so it would be on Berghuis to show how creative he really is.
In the first half, there were some highlights, some good passing, shots from distance and some balls whipped in, but it all lacked precision. He is forced to play too deep in that role and should actually play as #10 in my view. Now, Klaassen was in that role and as Rafael van der Vaart said after the game: “You only really notice Klaassen when he scores. If he doesn’t score, he’s invisible.”
The first half, Klaassen had the least # of touches.
Bergwijn showed some of his class and demonstrated a couple of things: 1) he’s got the skills, 2) he has the strength and speed and 3) he lacks match rhythm.
The second half started with the knowledge that LVG would have fixed some issues. But the team didn’t start in the way you’d expect and a series of defensive errors gifted Poland their second goal: 0-2. Where their first was a result of a good move from the training ground, the second goal was totally avoidable.
A ball in midfield bouncing around. Berghuis heading the ball in the blind back towards his own goal. He had a team mate next to him, that ball should have gone square. But his back header got Ake totally out of position, who had to make a snap decision: step up for offside, or drop off. The Citizen made the wrong choice: free field for two Polish forwards who didn’t have a problem finishing off: 0-2.
There were some more frightening moments for Holland at the back, but the offside rule helped.
Oranje got straight back into the game thanks to some nifty footwork by Timber and – finally – a proper cross by Blind. The ball dropped in the path of Davy Klaassen who did what he can do so well: arrive right in time, unmarked. He simply bounced the ball off his inside foot and scored: 1-2.
This seemed to have ignited some fighting spirit in the team and the 2-2 came after a good Ake pass – the Man City player was one of the least bad players for Oranje – and a smart Bergwijn flick, the ball ended up with Dumfries, who does what he does really well: score.
It seemed Oranje was ready to completely turn the game around, as they did so often already, and against Wales most recently. Koopmeiners came into the team for Berghuis, Gakpo for Klaassen and Teze for Timber.
The latter change got people’s brows to frown. Van Gaal: “I was not happy with Timber. He played very un-Timber like. He usually finds the forward pass quickly, but now he kept on dribbling and getting into cul de sacs. I subbed him for Teze, who is also good at playing the early pass and I think Teze did better than Timber!”
Koopmeiners was expected to use his passing range from deep and Gakpo went to play in the #10 role. Initially, Memphis thought he was going to play there and pushed Gakpo to the side, but Van Gaal intervened. Eventually Gakpo did find most space on the right wing, where the in-demand PSV winger had some decent moves and crosses.
Koopmeiners disappointed yet again. It might well be the long season for him, as he looked quite leggy.
Oranje kept on pushing and Daley Blind was close with a shot which would have given his performance a bit of a glitz but the ball went a tad wide.
At that point, the Polish players do what they can to disrupt Oranje’s game play. Play-acting, drama, upsets and the likes of Dumfries and Frenkie were keen to join in the huddles.
Memphis missed a late chance after a good Gakpo move but the VAR detected that Cash handled the ball – ever so slightly. Penalty for Oranje.
Memphis is the penalty king for Oranje and as he’s chasing Huntelaar in the topscorers list, it was logical he took the ball in his hands. However, considering his form of the day it would not have been foolish to let a guy like Koopmeiners take it. Not that Teun was in good form…
And thus, Memphis tried too hard. Wanted to hit it too hard, too much in the top corner. Why? Unnecessary and the ball clipped the post.
He did get one more chance to score the winner, with a glorious header. The Polish goalie had the save of his lifetime though.
By the way, a certain Wout Weghorst was on the pitch already, for probably 20 minutes. The lad literally got ZERO service. Not once were his team mates able to present the pinch hitter with a playable ball.
After the game, Van Gaal was proud on his players. The usual sound bites. “It’s not easy when the opponent parks the bus” and “their spirit was amazing” and “these players are tired” and “when you score the penalty, you take the 3 points” and “I think Memphis won’t miss the penalty at the World Cup”.
He also criticised Flekken for the 0-1 and was harsh on Timber.
Furthermore, he lamented how Bergwijn is not able to play 90 minutes at full intensity and also gave absent Danjuma a warning: “When you are injured you drop on the hierarchy. Scoring a couple of goals doesn’t just bring you back into Oranje. The players need to perform consistently. Cillesen has a slight problem now and it doesn’t give me great confidence.”
Van Gaal also lashed out to the De Kuip situation. “This stadium, it’s just rubbish. It’s old and tired. Not fit for modern football. Pitch is good, yes. Atmosphere too, but the rest….”
Player ratings by yours truly.
Mark Flekken – 6
He did show some class with his feet, he blocked a shot from a Polish player in offside position, but he also was partly at fault of the 0-1 and still comes across a tad insecure.
Dumfries – 6,5
He had spirit, he had fight, he was constantly available on the right (although he does drift inside too often, which brings him into confined spaces where he is out of his depth). Scoring goals is not his task, but we’ll cheer them all of course…
Timber – 5,5
The Ajax man had a good first half, with some good passing initially, but took risks in possession and dribbled into cul de sacs too often. Had some early fouls which could have resulted in an early yellow, like Teze had vs Wales.
De Vrij – 6
Solid in defence, not offering much in build up. Organised his back line well, overall and strong in the one v one.
Ake – 6,5
The City man made some wrong decisions, one of which helped Poland to the 2-2. Overall strong on the ball and with some good passes forward. You still expect more from a player of Manchester City. He does seem a bit timid in possession.
Blind – 5
Worst man on the pitch. Weak in possession in the first half. At fault for the 0-1. Partnership with Memphis seemed as if they played together for the first time. His second half cross found Klaassen for the 1-2 but that was not enough to get a better grade.
Frenkie – 6
The Barca man couldn’t find the space, nor the time. Got hacked badly in the first 20 minutes, with gasps of terror coming from the stands, but the mercurial midfielder was ok. He couldn’t make the difference, but kept on playing and trying.
Berghuis – 6
Worked hard in the first half, wanted the ball and tried to create things but he was too much off his game. Crosses didn’t end up where they needed to go, his left-foot curler signature shot ended up two yards wide. Intentions were good, execution was wanting. His versatility ( holding mid next to Frenkie, playmaker, right winger ) means he can expect the invite for Qatar.
Memphis – 5,5
Terrible game for the Barca man. Nothing worked. Dribbles, passing, shots, chips, even the penalty. The only good thing about the skipper: he kept on going, he kept on working and trying. He got the 0,5 point extra for his work rate and that unexpected header in the last minute. The captain’s band is maybe to heavy for him.
Klaassen – 5,5
I’d give him a 5 normally, but the 0,5 is the result of his goal. You have to give it to him: he can do this like no other (well… Donny van de Beek is as good). But otherwise, there was not much joy for Klaassen in this match.
Bergwijn – 6,5
Showed class, strength and resilience. Not playing his greatest game (for example: a good piece of trickery on the wing to get the space to cross the ball in, but then the cross flies over everyone…) but demonstrating his skills and threat. More of this please, and as LVG said: for the full 90 minutes please.
Gakpo – 6,5
Hard to come into a team that struggles, but the PSV winger/playmaker demonstrated his potential with some excellent moves.
Koopmeiners – 5
Didn’t offer anything. Slow on the ball, playing one in first gear. Not finding solutions. Overall disappoining.
Teze – 6
Played terrible versus Wales but Van Gaal sees something in him. He was active in this match, with some distance strikes and some good passing attempts. A good sub turn for him.
No grade for Wout. He should have had a 9, as he made zero mistakes. But that was because he was never found or included in the game. With him, Oranje played with 10 men.
Van Gaal – 5
I’m harsh on Van Gaal. He failed to give the simple instructions to the team and he failed to get them motivated and inspired enough. He should have subbed Blind at half time to give a strong message to the rest and put Malacia in. He brought Weghorst but failed to change the tactics to a 4-3-3 to allow the team to use Weghorst in a proper way. The tactics failed and Van Gaal was not able to change it.
So what does this mean?
For me, it means that this Oranje when in full form and with the key players available, we can be a surprise, a dark horse at the World Cup. But it also means that if we get it wrong, we could go home after the group stages. Losing versus Chile, drawing versus Qatar, losing versus Senegal. Bye bye.
At the same time, these Nations League games are a bit like friendlies. Most of the players are at the tail end of a long season. And playing terrible but still getting a point (and being able to win it!), well… we’ll take it.
I do think that the availability of the likes of Danjuma, Gravenberch, Malen, Karsdorp, Bijlow and Van de Beek will be key. A midfield with Klaassen and Berghuis is simply not enough. We’ll need all the big guns there to have a chance.
The Wales line up might well be:
Teze – De Ligt – De Vrij – Martins Indi – Malacia
Schouten – Berghuis
Janssen – Weghorst
Let’s hope Wales is not too focused on a result and let’s hope we get some positive result, to end this campaign on a high.